The Fragmented Heart of Mytho

Prin T

I’ve known about Princess Tutu since around 2004, but have only just decided to watch it due to Josh W’s influence.  One does not expect a fantasy show revolving around ballet to be this good, and part of the entertainment lies in how little of the plot is straightforward.  In the city where the tale takes place, storybook characters can enter the real world.  Prince Mytho stands as one such person and so is his antagonist, the Raven.  According to the book, written by an eccentric named Drosselmeyer, the Prince sealed the Raven’s power through shattering his own heart.  Though Mytho succeeded in his object, he has become the shell of a human being.  The heroine, Duck, is approached by Drosselmeyer and given the power to transform into Princess Tutu so that she might restore Mytho’s heart to its proper condition.  However, restoring Mytho’s heart brings him pain and sorrow which he would never experience without a heart.  Also, the advent of the Raven’s release from his imprisonment is simultaneously advanced by the restoration of Mytho’s heart.

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Easter and Divine Mercy Sunday Approaching

We celebrated Laetare Sunday this week, laetare being the Latin word “to rejoice.” Similar to Gaudete Sunday of Advent, we rejoiced that the Lenten season was coming to a close.  We have about three week to go until Easter (March 27).  A week afterwards, we shall celebrate the still lesser known Feast of Divine Mercy or Divine Mercy Sunday.  In the ancient days of the Church, the newly baptized would wear their white baptismal robes for a week after Easter and finally doff them on the Sunday following Easter.  This custom eventually fell into disuse, but, through a series of visions to St. Faustina Kowalska of Poland, Our Lord restored the significance of the day, desiring it to be a feast day dedicated to the Mercy of God.  He also gave St. Faustina a new icon to recall His Mercy, which displays the blood and water which poured from Christ’s side as beams of red and white light:

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The original icon St. Faustina directed an artist to paint.

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About the Devil in the Series Lucifer

A few days ago, I received a curious protest petition against the upcoming series Lucifer, which will premiere in January on FOX and is based on a character from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.  The e-mail highlights how the series would show the devil as a nice guy, solving crimes and being kind and compassionate to all sorts of people.  The e-mail stated how important it was to urge FOX not to air the show, for it’s portrayal of the devil would confuse the ill-informed and corrupt the youth.

Lucifer actor

But, this description of the devil brought an important fact to my mind: the devil never shows himself as the hate-filled and filth-loving monster that he is.  If he does take that aspect, it is only toward people who assiduously resist his temptations and refuse to be taken in by the devil’s facade.  Fulton Sheen appropriately notes that the devil pretends to be a friend of human freedom before a sin, while God, who actively tries to stop us from doing evil, appears as if He were against human freedom.

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Pastors Should Feed the Sheep–Not Themselves

For a while now, reading about the heterodox opinions expressed by high ranking prelates in the German Church has rankled me.  Though, the state of Catholicism in Germany has often been problematic throughout history: St. Boniface needed to constantly reconvert Germans who had lapsed back into paganism; of all the particular churches prior to the Protestant Reformation, Germany offered more examples of corruption amidst the clergy; concerning Humanes Vitae (an encyclical stating orthodox teaching concerning married love, responsible parenting, and contraceptives), German bishops stated–before the ink was dry on that document–that people should just follow their consciences irrespective of Catholic teaching; and now, they have espoused new heretical teachings!  Well, what should we expect of priests who are so lax that the grand majority only goes to confession once a year–the bare minimum for a practicing Catholic?

St. Augustine

At least, I hope they still pray their Divine Office, which is an official program of prayer and spiritual reading priests have vowed to pray each day.  After I left seminary, I gave my volumes of the Divine Office to my brother, since I still had to psychologically divorce myself from the seminary.  (Besides, he seemed to enjoy praying it with me on occasion.)  Recently, my parents returned the volumes to me after visiting my brother, and I could not resist praying at least Morning Prayer and the Office of Readings.  Conspicuous in the Office of Readings is that selections from St. Augustine’s “Sermon on Pastors” makes up the second reading from last Sunday until next Friday–probably covering the whole sermon.  May the German priests take to heart St. Augustine’s admonition to feed the sheep rather than themselves!  What do I mean?  The German priests make themselves more popular to their fellow citizens through espousing secular ideas over doctrine.  The following have come from various high ranking German prelates: homosexuality should not be taught as a sin (I believe they wish to go much farther than saying only the acts, not the disposition, are sins), sex outside of marriage is fine, and divorced and remarried Catholics may receive the Eucharist.

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Abayo! : Time for a Hiatus

My dear readers know that I occasionally take breaks from blogging.  Essentially, I have a millions hobbies and pursuits, many of which suffer neglect.  At present, reading and fiction writing have been given too little attention.  To myself, my writing style appears to have ossified of late, and I feel like my articles draw on fewer authors.  Reading itself often helps me remember what I have read, which helps me add more substance to what I write.  Now, reading books, it pains me to relate, often feels like a chore–a sure-fire sign that I have been watching too much anime!

Cake

The worst thing about watching too much television lies in that it is designed to appeal to sentiment more than reason, as Russell Kirk, a 20th century American Conservative thinker known especially well by Hillsdale College graduates, writes in Redeeming the Time.  Is this a bad thing?  Not necessarily: there exist noble and moral sentiments which are good to exercise.  For example, we would think a man a poor American who never becomes moved by the Star-Spangled Banner.  The danger comes in relying upon sentiment to dictate all our actions.  It is possible for the mental muscle of reason to become so weakened that we are unable to judge our sentiments and emotions objectively–just think back to the final episodes of Gokukoku no Brynhildr.

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The Final Temptation of Jeanne D’Arc

In watching Shingeki no Bahamutsine dubio the best show of the past season, the temptation of Jeanne D’Arc struck me enough to produce the present article.  Their portrayal of demons and how they tempt people advancing in virtue is very true to reality.  Note well, the devil does not tempt everybody in the way that Jeanne was tempted but only the virtuous.

Jeanne at the stake

According to Aristotle, there exist four kinds of people in the quest for virtue.  Well, Aristotle does list two more; but one is a worse state of the vicious man, and the other is lukewarm.  Neither are especially important to my arguments here or to Aristotle himself.  The four classes consist of the vicious, the inconstant, constant, and the virtuous.  The vicious freely and painlessly commit sins out of habit; the inconstant fall often though they intend to do the right and are pained by their sins; the constant avoid wrongdoing even though the practice of virtue feels painful to them; and the virtuous joyfully and often painlessly do the right thing.  The devil does not bother to tempt the vicious, sometimes finds it necessary to tempt the second, fights against the progress of the third, and–in his bitterness at their good fortune–wages total war against those sane individuals who love the practice of virtue.

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Most of us are slightly insane in believing that sinful deeds are good for us.  We believe so either because of the pleasure obtained in the sinful act (occasions of lust, sloth, or gluttony come to mind) or because sinning appears to be to our advantage (e.g. theft or destroying a personal enemy’s reputation through slander and detraction).  On the other hand, the virtuous make for very difficult targets for the devil, because not only do their minds and will tend toward the right but even their affections and emotions.  Every sin repulses them, no matter how apparently advantageous or pleasurable, while the thought of any good deed spurs them to action no matter how arduous, self-effacing, or painful.  They possess true wisdom and solid good habits.  So how does the devil make war on them?

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We see the answer in Jeanne D’Arc’s temptation, which spans episodes nine and ten: the devil assaults them with darkness in order to take away their wisdom.  Not only does Martinet try to make the sinful desirable for Jeanne but even persuades her that goodness itself does not exist.  Martinet mocks her belief that she is a holy knight and states flatly that the gods have abandoned her.  Jeanne makes the fatal mistake, which everyone makes, of actually talking to the devil and engaging with his ideas instead of treating them with contempt.  Demons lack all wisdom and deal exclusively in lies–no matter how persuasive their words or how close they seem to match reality.  By engaging with them, we only become entangled and influenced by them.  Our Lord provides the perfect example of how to deal with devils when He does not permit them to speak (Mark 1:25 and 1:34).

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Shingeki no Bahamut‘s gods are finite beings; therefore, they did indeed abandon her.  However, when the devil tells us that God has abandoned us, we ought instead understand that the devil is panicking in seeing that God works ever more strongly in perfecting our souls.  In Jeanne’s case, Martinet even resorts to impersonating the gods in order to induce despair into her soul.  I can think of two saints against whom the devil has impersonated Our Lord: St. Martin of Tours and St. Padre Pio.  The people of St. Martin’s time esteemed him as equal to the apostles.  Padre Pio is the greatest saint of modern times.  Both saw through the devil’s schemes.  The more hotly pursued we are by evil, the more tightly God binds us to Himself: “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:29).

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Sadly, Jeanne allows her mind to become so disturbed by the abandonment of the divine and the problem of evil that she drinks Martinet’s poison.  Similarly, if we allow despair and distrust of God to guide our choices, we shall doff our wisdom, imprudently indulge our senses, and eventually drink the poison of the vices.  Fortunately, such failings do not turn us instantly into demons!  But, how shameful for someone who has been given so many graces and the honor of participating more in Christ’s Passion than other people to not only distrust God but to show Him scorn!  Surely, God will bring down many punishments upon such people and abandon them to the deepest hell!

Our Lord Jesus Christ descending into hell on Good Friday.  He grasps Adam by the hand in order to lead him to paradise.

Our Lord Jesus Christ descending into hell on Good Friday. He grasps Adam by the hand in order to lead him to paradise.

No, God is infinitely more merciful than even St. Michael in Shingeki no Bahamut.  As St. Bernard of Clairvaux writes, “When we fly from Thee, Thou pursue us; when we turn our backs, Thou present Thyself before us; when we despise Thee, Thou entreat us; and there is neither insult nor contempt which hinders Thee from laboring unweariedly to bring us to the attainment of that which the eye has not seen, nor ear heard, and which the heart of man cannot comprehend.” People are weak and ignorant, stray from the truth, and sin.  However, God is ever faithful, even if we are unfaithful: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).  God Himself restores the light lost amidst darkness and the faith lost in bitter trials.  This restoration may take a long time, but we are assured to be more blessed then than we were before–as was the case with Job.  No matter how dark and bitter our present circumstances, God never swerves from being generous, good, merciful and caring.

On the Will of God and Poverty of Spirit

Akatsuki no Yona, with all its talk of Tenmei–literally, “the Will of Heaven”–has got me thinking about the Will of God.  This is often difficult to determine in our lives, and I have heard one Catholic commentator state: “The Will of God is inscrutable.”  But, not everything which happens by God’s Will or permission outstretches our understanding; otherwise, we should simply not understand God in the slightest and not be able to have a relationship with Him.  In general, He commands all people to follow the moral law and exercise charity towards each other.  On a more particular level, the Will of God may be communicated to us through our talents and desires.  Do you have an extraordinary talent for the most abstract arithmetic imaginable?  Perhaps, God wishes for you to become a university professor.   Do you love someone of the opposite sex profoundly?  Do not be surprised if God wishes you to marry that person.

SaintSimon

Yet, desires can be a very tricky thing, and people are often mislead.  The particular Will of God for us is based in the individuality which God gave us.  It subsists in the core of our being.  Only by being true to ourselves can we be true to God and find happiness.  However, we are surrounded by many happy people in the world, and we might think that by having what they have we shall also be made happy.  Besides this, the world itself offers many things–especially money–which it claims will make us happy.  But, you cannot serve God and mammon!  The more you listen to the noise of the world the less you shall discern the whisper of God.  To one who has become too worldly, God can no longer whisper: He must shout!

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As C. S. Lewis tells us, pain is often the means by which God tells us something is wrong.  We suffer anxiety, depression, and vague feelings of unhappiness.  Should our response to these feelings be seeking worldly distractions, God may sever us forcibly from the pleasures of the world with the blade of poverty.  Impoverished, we lack the means of spoiling or distracting ourselves with external goods.  All we have left are those talents and desires which we ignored in our prosperity.  In running away from our talents, our individuality, and our specific manner of serving our brothers and sisters, we have become less human.  We struggle for a while in attempting to regain our status, but the Mercy of God prevents it while we yet ignore God’s voice and rely solely upon ourselves.  At last accepting our fate, the vanity of worldly pleasures (many perhaps good in themselves but evil when they stand in the place of God) becomes apparent and the memory of them bitter.

St. Francis of Assisi. with his father having demanded that he return everything he "stole" from him, doffed even the clothes he wore.

St. Francis of Assisi. with his father having demanded that he return everything he “stole” from him, doffed even the clothes he wore.

Despite these many pains, poverty or very frugal circumstances are not signs that God hates us.  Instead, God calls the poor blessed–both the materially poor and the spiritually poor.  The fact that religious orders often include a vow of poverty indicates the link between the two.  Why are the poor blessed?  Because they contend less with the noise of the world and focus more on the Will of God and the intrinsic goods God has given them to share with others.  The poor in spirit are capable of great things because their only concern is the Will of God.

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Though, I could use the example of many saints to show the sanctifying effects of poverty, I’d like to instead use the example of Ulysses S Grant.  Who can doubt that the man was born to be a soldier?  He was the only Union general with the competency to avoid losing ground to General Lee and the dogged tenacity to make a war of attrition successful.  The happiest times of his life coincided with his military service.  After resigning from his first period of service, he relied on the charity of his father-in-law until the outbreak of the Civil War.  After the Civil War, his name was smeared by the presiding over the most corrupt administration in history until modern times.  Afterwards, he did the unthinkable action of trying to break with Washington’s precedent in order to run for a third term!  A sore loser, Grant bore a grudge against James A. Garfield for winning the nomination–even though Garfield not only did not seek the nomination but even was horrified to gain it!

garfield

Compared to the humble, frank, and unambitious man of prior times, Grant the politician seems a different man–a monster!  Here is a description of Grant just after the Civil war by General Richard Taylor from Destruction and Reconstruction:

The officers of the army on duty at Washington were very civil to me, especially General Grant, whom I had known prior to and during the Mexican war, as a modest, amiable, but by no means promising lieutenant in a marching regiment. He came frequently to see me, was full of kindness, and anxious to promote my wishes. His action in preventing violation of the terms of surrender, and a subsequent report that he made of the condition of the South – a report not at all pleasing to the radicals – endeared him to all Southern men…His bearing and conduct at this time were admirable, modest and generous; and I talked much with him of the noble and beneficent work before him. While his heart seemed to respond, he declared his ignorance of and distaste for politics and politicians, with which and whom he intended to have nothing to do, but confine himself to his duties of commander-in-chief of the army.

GenGrant

That is exactly the man who commanded the Army of the Potomac and the one who wrote the most famous memoir of any participant in the Civil War–a memoir which a friend tells me affected modern American prose more than any other work!  (Grant’s memoirs do read like something our of the 20th century rather than the 19th.)  But, politics, power, and fame almost ruined Grant for good.  When Grant wrote his memoirs, he had been reduced to desperate poverty, which I have no doubt was God’s method of restoring Grant’s character.  The Hound of Heaven will resort to any means to prevent people baptized in His name from perishing everlastingly.

Good Shepherd

So, people suffering from want or various forms of misery need not despair.  Pain is often the sign that one is still united to Christ Crucified and often purifies the soul to a salutary poverty.  “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.”  The share of the Kingdom of God we have on earth is performing the Will of God, which, though it may be a gentle whisper, rings loud and clear to the poor in spirit.

On Drawing Religious Messages from Anime

In any meditation on anime and religion, my major premise is the following: all men, whether they realize it or not, are seeking Jesus Christ.  In St. Gertrude’s revelations, Our Lord remarks to the saint that he looks fondly at people who read books, because He believes that they really wish to find Him among their pages.  This leads us to the question of how to find Christ through fiction.  People have been turning to novels since the 19th century for religion (which you shall indeed find in the best of them: Alexandre Dumas, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and others), but can one also discover God in cartoons from the Land of the Gods?

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The first thing to note is that not every anime cleaves to a pagan worldview.  For example, Wolf’s RainArpeggio of Blue SteelBlassreiterMardock ScrambleTrigunLe Chevalier D’Eon, and Glass Fleet either use Christian elements effectively or derive from a Christian author.  When I write about these shows, Christian themes are there for the taking: this is how I can meditate on Our Lord and Our Lady through Wolf’s Rain.  Nevertheless, such articles usually do not come to me so easily, because the majority of anime adheres to a pagan worldview.  How is one to discern Christ in a story whose author does not  know the Lord?

Kiba and Cheza_2

The answer lies in allegory and symbolism.  However, ancient peoples understood allegorical reasoning much better than moderns (as is shown by students’ constantly complaining about analogies on tests); but, this form of reasoning is essential to understanding religion.  Words inadequately convey spiritual realities.  For example, we call God Lord.  This same word can be applied to Genghis Khan, Charlemagne, or King George III.  The word lord was originally used to apply to figures like these, but how can they compare to the Lord of the Universe, Who rules all things spiritual and material with complete knowledge of all that happened, occurs presently, and will be in the future?  We also refer to God as the Architect of the Universe.  But, how can someone who draws diagrams of a house be compared to the One who has designed the cosmos?  We can only describe God and other religious concepts by analogy, where words stand as metaphors for something greater than they can express.

Eleonore at the Gate

To see how this becomes applicable to anime, let us take the beginning of episode two of Madan no Ou to Vanadis.  *Many spoilers from episodes two and three ahead!*  Tigre attempts to exit (it cannot really be called escape, can it?) Eleonore’s castle, only to be stopped by Eleonore herself.   What allegories to Christianity might we find in this example?  First, let us note Tigre’s utter destitution and powerlessness compared to Eleonore, the lord of the castle and leader of an army.  Compared to God, people are poor and weak.  We must rely upon God for everything.  In regard to our hero and heroine, Tigre has no hope of defending his fief from enemy attack, but wishes to return home anyway despite certain death.  This contempt for his life enrages Eleonore both because Tigre is participating in an exercise of futility and because he neglects to rely upon her. In the same way, people often rely upon themselves instead of God and rush headlong into certain failure.  If only they had sought God’s aid, they might have succeeded in their endeavor.

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But, for various reasons, people are either neglect or are afraid to approach God.  One way of overcoming the fear of approaching God is to approach Him through intercessors.  (An important thing to remember on All Saint’s Day!)  Yet, nothing delights Our Lord as being approached directly and with full confidence in Him.  On what does this confidence rest?  Knowing that God loves us and wishes for our happiness.  After all, Jesus Christ has been described as the Bridegroom and the Church as the Bride.  The love of man and wife becomes symbolic of Christ’s love for the Church.  Bride and bridegroom denote newlyweds in particular, and one cannot imagine newlyweds being inclined to refuse each other anything.

This was a great shot, by the way.

This was a great shot, by the way.

Well, dear readers, you see where I’m going with this, don’t you?  Though their sexes do not match their roles, this symbolism works very well for Eleonore and Tigre.  (Also, unless something untoward and horrendous happens, they are certain to get hitched.)  Tigre boldly asks for an army from Eleonore, who bursts out laughing with delight and happily gives him the army with a few conditions.  These conditions bind Tigre more closely to her, as occurs when we receive anything from God.  As St. Bernard of Clairvaux says, the reward for loving is to be able to love more, and the opportunities for loving increase the more closely two people are bound to one another.  And so, Eleonore not only gives Tigre the gift of her army, but even joins it in order to defeat the most powerful opponents herself.  In a similar way, God delights not only to give us what we ask for but more besides.  Though we are expected to continue in the firm desire to do the right, God truly brings about our triumphs–only requiring that we have a firm and complete confidence in Him.

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At any rate, that is how my mind draws connections between anime and religion most of the time.  One cannot be afraid to think a little outside the box and reconcile imperfect analogies!  May this help other people use literature and film to think about their faith.

Is it Possible to Love Indiscriminately?

I was watching Mike Wallace’s 1959 interview of Ayn Rand recently.  Concerning government and economics, I find myself in much agreement with Rand’s philosophy, but many of her views on love and selflessness are intolerable.  Yet, she makes an interesting point in this section of the interview: it is impossible to love indiscriminately.  To love without standards, for her, would be a meaningless kind of love.  In particular, those without virtue cannot be loved.  Her interviewer, Wallace, found this view problematic because, human nature being what it is, only very few people would deserve to be loved.

Jesus teaches the People

Of course, such a view neglects that most people–probably all people in reality–are loved in spite of their defects.  What causes one person to love another is often rather mysterious, isn’t it?  But, Rand was onto something when she said that loving indiscriminately is impossible.  You see, love requires the lover at least to know his beloved.  Also, of the many kinds of sympathies, love is unique that it can only exist where there is intimacy and knowledge of a person’s individuality.  Max Scheler (whose work I connected to Attack on Titan) classifies five kinds of sympathy:

  1. Identification
  2. Vicarious
  3. Fellow-Feeling
  4. Benevolence
  5. Love

Max Scheler

The other four kinds of sympathy or affection don’t require knowledge of someone’s individuality.  One can identify with someone merely through their humanity, vicariously place oneself in another’s shoes with whom one’s never spoken, have a degree of fellow-feeling in regard to people who’ve experienced similar events, and it is perfectly possible to feel benevolent toward a Mongolian shepherd, though one has no intention of ever meeting a Mongolian let alone visiting Mongolia.  No one can love that Mongolian shepherd unless they meet him or become pen pals or something.  Some kind of self-revelation is necessary in order to love a distinct personality!

Can't say that I love him, but owning a tame eagle is pretty cool.

Can’t say that I love him, but owning a tame eagle is pretty cool.

How can we square this with Christ’s command in John 13:34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”  You can be sure that Christ did not only mean that we should love people we know personally: “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (Matt. 5:46)  Of course, you can say that Christ wished for us to love one another on the order of benevolence–“willing the good” for one another.  Often, the word charity is treated as a kind of love based on action or willing the good.  But, in the Greek version of the above texts, the verb αγαπαω is employed, from which the word agape is derived in English.  I have seen the word agape defined as the love of God for man and the love each Christian should have for one another.  Having a great goodwill is essential to the concept of agape, but this kind of love goes beyond willing and doing good for them.  So, how can we αγαπωμεν all men?

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The solution lies in meditating on the nature of the Word–or rather, Christ’s two natures, human and divine, united in His Person–and the nature of mankind.  Each human being is created in the divine image and likeness.  Each one of us reflects God in our own unique way.  If a soul is lost and falls into hell, a singular and never again to be created reflection of God is lost forever.  But, what can we say about the humanity of Christ, which is so perfectly united to his divinity?  What sort of human being is not only the image and likeness of the divine, but divinity itself?  O divine humanity!  Jesus Christ perforce has all the perfections of mankind within Himself and is the very source and foundation of our own goodness.

Since Jesus Christ has whatever goodness we find in ourselves in Himself, we are led to the inescapable conclusion that we find ourselves–our true selves–in Christ.  Apart from Christ, we shall never find our true originality.  But extension, we cannot perceive the true individuality of others unless we see them in Christ.

Jesus on Trial

Now, you see the solution to how to love all men unconditionally: to love Christ in loving His brothers and sisters–all mankind.  An individual’s personality may be unknown to us, but we can see the person as God, whom we love in loving that person.  Even people who irritate us or do us harm may be loved in this way.  And who knows but that by loving the naturally unlovable, they may become great human beings?  St. Stephen loved the people who stoned him to death because he loved Christ who desired their salvation.  St. Stephen’s prayer “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:60) perhaps gained for St. Paul the gift of his conversion on the road to Damascus.

So, in order to love all mankind, we must love one individual: Jesus Christ.  One need not stop short at a general feeling of goodwill toward all men, but we may love them all as we love Christ.  So, in a curious way, I agree with Ayn Rand that we cannot love indiscriminately; yet, this proves no obstacle to loving all in Christ, that unique individual who united all mankind within Himself.

The Cuckoo Bird Christ or How the Toothbrush Scene’s Not the Worst Part of Nisemonogatari

Nisemonogatari has been considered infamous for its toothbrush scene, but a worse scene has been neglected by the blogosphere.  (And if another article exists on this topic, please tell me about it.)  As much as I enjoyed the first seven episodes of Nisemonogatari, the last four ranged from atrocious to uninspiring.  Having no desire to watch it again, I could not but give it two and a half stars.
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This lackluster performance was capped by some infuriating insinuations in the prologue of episode eleven.  Let me remind you of some of the details of the description of the Dying Bird, which is apparently what Tsukihi Araragi–the main character’s sister–is.  The Dying Bird has been incorrectly called the Phoenix.  Instead, it is the fraudulent Cuckoo, who implants its brood into the nests of others.  In the context of this show, it’s a nisemono–fake–and an immortal one at that.  Also, the mother is the victim of this event.

In the midst of this narration, we see a picture of the Madonna and Child burning to ashes.  And do not forget that the Phoenix has been traditionally a symbol of Christ, which Nisemonogatari downgrades to a cuckoo.
Jesus et Maria

The suggestion is not subtle: St. Mary is the unfortunate victim of the Incarnation, and Jesus Christ a fake immortal.  Tying in the description of the Dying Bird with the picture of the Madonna and Child indicates that Nisemonogatari* wishes to smear the nobility of the Blessed Virgin Mary and paint our Lord and Savior in dark colors as it denies His divinity.  Nisemonogatari, with its constant questioning of traditional values, is clearly a Post-Modern work.  For Post-Moderns, denying the hand of Providence in all births makes them incapable of perceiving the divine origin of the Incarnation.  Denying free will makes them unable to perceive heroes in the mass of victims they consider humanity to be.

Fra_Angelico_Annunciation
Christianity has much more adventure and nobility than the Post-Modern credits it.  Through the archangel Gabriel, God approaches Mary with His plan of salvation and Mary agrees: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”   Once, I heard a professor claim that God carried out His plan without the will of any human being–including the Blessed Virgin.  God is more chivalrous and great-souled than that!  He hangs the whole plan of His salvation on Mary’s lips, and the Immaculate Virgin speaks her “Fiat” to undo the disobedience of Eve.  Eve’s disobedience slammed the gates of heaven to all humanity, while St. Mary’s obedience opened the gates of God’s plan of salvation.  Mary is not a victim, but a hero deserving a special reverence which the Church refers to as hyperdulia in Greek.
Nor is Our Lord a foreign body in the body of the Blessed Virgin.  He took His Flesh and Blood from the Immaculate Virgin.  But, St. Mary is not only the Mother of Christ’s body, but the Mother of God or Theotokos, as affirmed in the Third Ecumenical Council.  Mothers do not only give birth to bodies, but to persons unless the baby is stillborn.  Thus, Jesus Christ is the true Only Begotten Son of God and the true Son of Mary.
Nisemonogatari assassin
Nisemonogatari wished to scoff at a central tenet of Christianity, and they fail bitterly because they cannot see the nobility of God and His Gospel.  Tsukihi’s mother is not the Immaculate Mary, and Tsukihi herself no Jesus Christ.  It was nothing except poor taste and perhaps a hostility toward Christianity which prompted them to make this suggestion.  Or is my reaction to this juxtaposition of an immortal cuckoo and Our Lord too extreme?
*Kaze has pointed out that I am writing inaccurately here.  By “Nisemonogatari wishes to smear the nobility of the Blessed Virgin Mary etc.”, I meant the person or persons who devised the scene in question.  Kaze informs me that the original writer of the novel Nisemonogatari does not connect the Blessed Virgin Mary and Our Lord to the tale of the Dying Bird.  Hence, all blame for the attempt to denigrate the persons of Our Lord and Lady must lie on the hands of SHAFT.  Nisio Isin, the original author, cannot be faulted for it.

Hamatora’s Anti-Christ

As well as being a very enjoyable story, Hamatora asked a few interesting questions.  In particular, the way Moral framed his obsession with strength intrigued me because he used similar arguments to Dostoyevski’s Raskolnikov.  In both Raskolnikov and Moral’s understanding, only the weak are bound by morality.  The strong are not bound by moral laws–what C. S. Lewis or Lao Tzu would call the Tao.  Moral finds the order of the universe–that there exist strong and weak–inherently unjust, especially with some people in Hamatora being able to advance farther than their fellow men through having special powers.  His solution revolves around eliminating the weak through giving all people special powers.  Moral believes himself to be the Messiah, except that his mission and methods turn him into a mere anti-christ–and St. John the Evangelist tells us that many of them exist.

vlcsnap-2014-08-13-16h01m06s159

Yet, one does wonder whether a central tenet of Moral’s ideology is correct even though his methods are heinous: that weakness must be eliminated.  After all, human beings do spent a great deal of time eliminating their weaknesses: exercising, studying, practicing skills, and practicing willpower.  People tend to hate weakness both in themselves and others.  A villain in Claymore even went so far as to say “Impotence is a sin.”  But if yet another villain agrees that weakness is so horrible, it implies that despising weakness and the weak is a quality of villains.

Demand Power

Moral’s problem comes in making strength and the elimination of weakness into an ultimate value.  Even if he attempted to do this without resorting to villainy, he would still be in the wrong.  A society with strength as its basis lacks charity.  Due to regarding usefulness and strength as the most important qualities, Spartans exposed sickly or malformed infants, and the ancient Indians killed their sick.  The fact of the matter is that God established certain strengths and weaknesses in everybody.  As God told St. Catherine of Siena, this forces us to practice mutual charity.  The same lesson can be gleaned from the Scriptures in St. Paul’s passages on each being given diverging spiritual gifts and the Church as a body (1 Corinthians 12).  The Middle ages in particular has a unique understanding of each member of society forming an integral part of the whole.

An Angry Three

The very strong physically are often weak mentally and vice versa.  This often comes of people discerning their gifts and pursuing them in despite of other parts of their humanity, but it reminds one that we need others.  Moral’s system would destroy the links between people and all need for chivalry or charity.  It is in this way that Moral acts as the anti-christ: claiming that certain people are not needed and thus subverting the order established by God.  One must ever be suspicious of people who wish to change the natural or even traditional order of society!

Nice is speaking for all of us here.

Nice is speaking for all of us here.

It is even the case that we must tolerate the moral foibles of our fellow men.  How would we win the crown of patience if we did not have to deal with quick-tempered Irene, the stubborn Brad, the avaricious Jean, the arrogant Claude, the slothful Clarissa, or the air-headed Desmond?  (These are not real people, by the way!)  We stand culpable for moral faults, but we must bear with them in ourselves and others until God sees fit to change them–knowing that we ourselves have placed obstacles to uprooting these vices in God’s way.  Love stands as the essential Christian virtue, and love is made like unto God when we not only love saintly, strong, beautiful, and smart people but also weak, poor, sinful, stupid, and ugly people.  Our goal is none other than to fulfill the New Commandment: “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another,” (John 13:34).  A system which would eliminate the difficult to love is anti-christ.  For, God made us all and for all to love one another.

Taking a bite

Nisemonogatari and Being a Phony

fake justice

I mentioned in my post before I traveled across half the country that I was watching Nisemonogatari, which might be translated as “Tale of the Fakes” or “Tale of the Phonies.”  Watching through episode seven made me ponder just what a phony was in Nisemonogatari’s book.  The ideas surrounding the issue reminded me of this great passage from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment.  Razumihin begins berating Raskolnikov by saying:

“Well, go to hell then,” he said gently and thoughtfully. “Stay,” he roared, as Raskolnikov was about to move. “Listen to me. Let me tell you, that you are all a set of babbling, posing idiots! If you’ve any little trouble you brood over it like a hen over an egg. And you are plagiarists even in that! There isn’t a sign of independent life in you! You are made of spermaceti ointment and you’ve lymph in your veins instead of blood. I don’t believe in anyone of you! In any circumstances the first thing for all of you is to be unlike a human being!…And if you weren’t a fool, a common fool, a perfect fool, if you were an original instead of a translation…”

Only Dostoyevsky could pose this problem so well: “If only you were an original instead of a translation…”  The reason Raskolnikov stopped being human is because he murdered an old woman for money and a sense of power.  His crime destroys his humanity.

Kaiki

One character in Nisemonogatari who fits the same description is Kaiki the con artist.  Sin detracts from our humanity and thus from our originality.  Of course, “errare est humanum,” but sins are sins because they make us less than who we were meant to be.  Our Lord came to deliver us from sin, and we slowly walk, slip, fall, and stand back up again on the way of perfection until we see the image and likeness of God made perfect in us in heaven.  In our perfection according to God’s image and likeness lies our originality.

kaiki wallet

But, I do think Nisemonogatari distinguishes between two kinds of fakes: the completely fake and the almost original.  Kaiki, because of his preference for money over the service of God and his fellow man, is a complete phony.  He introduces himself as Kaiki with the kai spelled as the clam/kai in “a mound of clams” and the ki as the ki/tree in “a dead tree.”  This brings to my mind Our Lord’s cursing of the fig tree.  The fig tree did not produce fruit when our Lord needed it, so it was cursed with barrenness.  Kaiki imitates the clam in its refusal to offer itself: Kaiki refuses to offer his talents for the good of his fellow man.  Also, like a dead tree, he bears no fruit.  A perfect name for a villain!

karen-3

Yet, a different sort of fake is symbolized by Karen Araragi.  She is almost original in that we see her using her talents for the good of others.  Where she lacks originality, as her brother aptly notes, is that she has appropriated other people’s desires and does not know what she really wants.  She merely plays.  But, her play reveals that her talents are genuine, which indicates that her true calling is not far from her play.  One day, she shall discover the true purpose her martial talents and give up her play as a seigi no mikata–ally of justice.

Senjougahara

And the majority of humanity undergoes the same struggle as Karen in finding their true purpose.  People try to advise us to take one path or another, but we can ever only truly find our path through looking at our own hearts and praying to the God who made us all originals.

On the Communion of Saints

I’ve tried twice to write the present article.  Neither scribbling quite satisfied me, and so I just decided to ramble and hope for the best.  Through the prayers of St. Ignatius of Loyola, whose natalis we celebrate today, may this ramble on the Communion of Saints benefit my dear readers!  Speaking of my dear readers, thanks to those who commented on my last article and made me think more deeply about the points I tried to make.  Your thoughtful observations rendered the comments section more interesting than the article itself!

All-Saints

At any rate, how are Christians benefited by the Communion of Saints?  And who makes up the Communion of Saints?  All the Faithful make up this body, whether on Earth, in Heaven, or in Purgatory.  (Protestants and Orthodox included, as to be baptized is to be made one with the Body of Christ.)  The Communion of Saints forms a bulwark against worldliness.  Meditation on the example and desires of the saints insulate us both against worldly desires and the despair which often threatens us during grave trials.

icon-of-christ-high-priest-the-holy-eucharist

That the Communion of Saints keeps our eyes fixed on the King of the Saints, Our Lord Jesus Christ, may especially be seen in the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  Those familiar with his life know that chivalric literature influenced St. Ignatius as a youth to seek military glory.  His brave career as a soldier ended at the Battle of Pamplona, where a cannonball wounded him in both legs.  This led to a long period of recuperation and agonizing surgery, which he endured most manfully.  While convalescing,  he wished to read more books on chivalry, but was told by his caretakers that they place where he stayed only had the Bible and the Lives of the Saints.  He read these and soon found himself fired by the love of God and the desire to imitate the saints.  He wrote down the words of Jesus Christ in a red pen and the words of St. Mary in blue in order to make them a constant meditation.  Upon recovery, he forsook a life in the world in order to pursue one of prayer, fasting, and poverty.  Eventually, St. Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus, whose members, the Jesuits, stand as one of the most prominent religious orders in the Church.

st-ignatius-of-loyola

We, like St. Ignatius, are born into the world and find ourselves influenced by it.  It is very easy for us to become enmeshed in mere daily living and worldly desires.  The end result is losing all taste for religion.  After all, does not BIBLE stand for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth?  Heaven can wait.  We have decades before we need to meet our Maker!  We can put off prayer, fasting, and almsgiving for later.  A person with such attitudes has already been enmeshed in the world, and stands the chance of losing eternal life.

lastjudgement

After St. Ignatius’ conversion, he never looked back.  The reason is because he took up the desires of the saints.  The saints’ desire for holiness and eternal life replaced his desire for worldly glory.  Though the latter part of his life was spent in society (Ignatius lived as a hermit for a short while), keeping mindful of God and the Saints preserved him from adapting the desires of secular persons.  As he writes in his Spiritual Exercises:

Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.

The other things on the face of the earth are created for man to help him in attaining the end for which he is created.

Hence, man is to make use of them in as far as they help him in the attainment of his end, and he must rid himself of them in as far as they prove a hindrance to him.

Therefore, we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things, as far as we are allowed free choice and are not under any prohibition. Consequently, as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short life. The same holds for all other things.

Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created.

Ignatius always remembered that he was a child of God with an eternal inheritance.  In comparison to eternal life, all else is dross.

Though intimate with the King and noble society, St. Thomas More valued riches and status as nothing compared to God and the Truth.  A great example of living in the world but not being of it.

Though intimate with the King and noble society, St. Thomas More valued riches and status as nothing compared to God and the Truth. A great example of living in the world but not being of it.

The whole trick to living in the world but not being of it resides in remembering to which community we belong.  Though we love and respect our secular friends and wish for them to gain the same end we hope for, it is necessary for us to avoid falling into the same errors as they do–especially the error that religion holds no relevance to everyday life.  The words and deeds of the saints–and indeed the saints themselves–can be brought into our daily lives.  In our imitation of the saints, the charity and virtue we show may even be instrumental in drawing secular persons to our society.

May St. Ignatius pray that we all arrive where he and the other saints praise Our Lord through the ages of the ages.  Amen.

Valkyria’s Limited Experience of Goodness & Invicible Ignorance

St. Thomas Aquinas’ fourth proof for the existence of God has always struck me as his weakest.  The fourth way of the Quinque Via states that we see various degrees of perfection in created beings.  These perfections must have a highest exemplar from which they gain all their perfections, and this highest exemplar with every perfection must be God.  However, the argument already assumes the existence of God: because we know that God is the greatest thing which can be thought, he must also be the highest exemplar of every perfection we find in creatures.  But, one cannot reason for the existence of God from such an argument.  You’re free to dispute this point if you like.

It's hard to tell who was the greater genius, St. Thomas Aquinas or Aristotle.

To use an example from Gokukoku no Brynhildr, Valkyria cannot reason from the beauty of the sunset, the tender kindness of Kuroneko, or the courageous rescue by Chisato to the infinitely beautiful, infinitely loving, and saving God.  Part of the reason Valkyria cannot reason thus lies in her being trapped in a world of evil: Vingulf’s laboratory which experiments on and tortures human beings until they expire or displease their superiors.  The belief that human beings hold intrinsic value stands as a moot point.  Chisato even frankly admits that all lives are not equal.

Valkyria intro

This causes a big problem for Valkyria.  Valkyria’s experience of goodness seems limited to Chisato and Kuroneko for the most part.  She loves Kuroneko because Kuroneko’s almost an exact clone of her, and she looks at Chisato as her god.  Instead of a God who calls every creature good and created human beings as the very image of himself, Valkyria believes in Chisato, who sees everyone and everything as either useless or potentially useless–except for his dead sister anyway.  Valkyria believes Chisato can do no wrong and follows him blindly.

A happy Valkyria

Her obedience even extends to killing Kuroneko, her other self.  She does attempt several times to dissuade Chisato from demanding Kuroneko’s death; but, when push comes to shove, she’s willing even to kill her twin for Chisato’s sake.  Thus, her limited perception of the good constricts to a solitary and morally corrupt individual.  Though, Kuroneko escapes death, Kuroneko might as well be an infidel with a fatwa on her head at that point.

Kuroneko vs Valkyria

However, a pivotal moment occurs when Chisato dies while saving Valkyria one more time.  (The spark of divine goodness reignited in him at the end.)  Valkyria decides to annihilate the entire city and everyone in it at that point.  In her mind, the present situation is none other than Nietzsche’s proclamation on the theological state of the world–though with a slight twist: “God is dead…And you have killed him!”  Valkyria believes that Chisato was the sole good in her life.  Without him, she wants to destroy the entire worthless world.  Fortunately, Kuroneko defeats her, which leads to one of the most perplexing scenes in the manga.

Destroy the World

Upon her death, Valkyria sees Chisato one more time and pronounces his name before disappearing.   Are we to understand this as Valkyria’s salvation at the end?  (Elfen Lied, Okamoto’s prior manga, is patently Christian, and the same ethos is present in Gokukoku no Brynhildr, though more hidden.)  One wonders if it is really Chisato she sees–having been granted salvation though doing the greatest good one friend can do for another–or is it in fact Jesus Christ?  When we think of the genus savior, Jesus Christ stands at the pinnacle.  But, the only example of salvation Valkyria knew was of Chisato; hence, at the brink of eternal damnation, she could only recognize the Savior, who desires to rescue all souls from eternal death, as Chisato.  In light of the ultimate Goodness, the last movement of her soul is toward repentance for her evils–which must appear truly detestable in the full light of God–and toward love of God.  Thus, she is saved.

Salvation perhaps

Would this movement of soul would be enough for salvation?  Love of the good which God placed in Chisato and which Valkyria could only recognize as Chisato?  As a Catholic, even if this were enough, I cannot but believe that her crimes would keep Valkyria in purgatory until the end of the world.  Though, the abyss of ignorance Valkyria has concerning God and goodness might indeed be invincible enough for Valkyria to escape the full penalty for her crimes.  May we all be so excused from our sins!

Scrambling for Freedom: How Mardock Scramble Points to Freedom as the Goal of Christian Life

Several of my readers may have come across Mardock Scramble and been dissuaded from watching it by reading descriptions of this show.  In that case, retain your original resolution not to watch it, because it does contain scenes which are downright gruesome and characters representing the worst levels to which a human being can fall.  At the same time, the evolution of Rune Balot from a prostitute leading a miserable existence to a woman capable of great compassion and virtue stands among the most beautiful anime has to offer.

mardock-scramble-Rune-Balot

The anime describes this transition from prostitute to heroine as the same as from slave to free.  That these three OVAs focus on freedom as their main topic makes itself apparent in the three ending songs.  (Yes, I loved this anime so much that I listened to the ending songs so that I might get every drop of it out.)  The first OVA plays “Amazing Grace,” the second “Ave Maria for Balot,” and the third Megumi Hayashibara’s (Rune Balot’s voice actress, by the way) “Tsubasa,” which means “Wings” in English.  These songs point to the three steps of salvation: 1) Christ finds us and saves us from hell; 2) we struggle for righteousness through the grace of God–especially sought through prayer; and 3) we fully realize the freedom found in abiding in God’s will.  The very highest freedom exists in heaven, where we shall no longer be tempted by evil choices and only chose from several goods.

Yet, people often look at things like the commandments and religious obligations, which lead them to come to the opinion that religion represses freedom.  But, let us examine these “strictures.”  The commandments order us not to do evil.  Constantly doing evil leads to vices forming on the soul.  What is a vice except a form of slavery on the soul?  Whether one looks at pride, envy, anger, greed, lust, gluttony, or sloth, it will become evident that these things limit a person.  Pride blinds us to truth, envy prevents us from loving others, anger prevents rational thought and action,  greed blinds us to what we really need, lust prevents us from seeing persons as persons, gluttony produces a body unfit for strenuous activity, and sloth prevents us from developing our talents.  In essence, by God telling us to be good, He tells us to be free.

Our Lord delivered St. Mary Magdalene from seven demons.  In the same way, He delivers all souls from the seven deadly sins.

Our Lord delivered St. Mary Magdalene from seven demons. In the same way, He delivers all souls from the seven deadly sins.

In the case of religious obligations like attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of obligation, receiving the Eucharist at least once a year, or going to confession at least once a year during Easter if we have committed a mortal sin, these merely oblige us to do what we should decide to do on our own initiative if we were not so ignorant.  Eating the Body of Christ and drinking the Blood of Christ is our very salvation.  And can one complain about having to go to confession if one is in a state of mortal sin–a condition where a sudden death might deprive them of eternal life?  Do not people who decline to go to confession out of fear or laziness rather than run into the arms of their merciful Father and steadfast Brother strike one as foolish?  Certain people have enough leisure that they receive the Eucharist daily or the Sacrament of Reconciliation weekly or even daily–ever dwelling in the Mercy of God imparted in the sacraments.  To wisely fulfill one’s obligations is not slavish but free.

Oeufcoque

To take the case of Rune Balot, she has obligations to Dr. Easter, who saves her from certain death through his medical technology, to help him testify against the man who used her as a concubine before attempting to burn her alive.  She is given Oeufcoque, a golden, talking mouse who can change into practically any tool–from computerized gloves to a hand cannon, as a partner.  Her acceptance of this duty leads to many violent confrontations, and she does have one major fall from grace.  When she realizes the extent of her fault due to Oeufcoque suffering from his aversion to her evil deeds, she comes to herself and repents straightway.  She had determined to love Oeufcoque earlier, but she had not taken into account her obligations to her new partner.  Without meeting these obligations, she cannot be free.

Rune Balot

Freedom is not without structure.  The order to which freedom adheres derives from moral law.  When we fit into this order, we bring our freedom to perfection.  The struggle of overcoming ourselves and conforming to virtue leads to us gaining true freedom.  And to what end ought we put our freedom?  Love.  Toward the end of the series, Balot tells Oeufcoque that she has known many men whom she wished would love her, but he is the first being she wished to love of her own initiative.  As conformity to the moral law leads to us becoming more at home in the universe, we become the persons we were meant to be and our desires are met in ways we never dreamed possible.  The ending of Mardock Scramble indicates that Balot, despite the pain of her recent experiences, has found happiness and rejoices in living–something which would never have happened had she not been providentially rescued from her wayward lifestyle.

The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales

I just had the pleasure of reading The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales by Jean-Pierre Camus.  Whether this Camus is a distant relation of the more famous Albert Camus, I know not.  His style of biography is reminiscent of Boswell’s Life of Johnson.  Like Boswell, Camus was a constant companion of St. Francis and recorded his habits with great exactitude.  Their friendship began around the time St. Francis, as Bishop of Geneva, consecrated him Bishop of Belley.  Camus’ remarkable frankness and memory make this a particularly interesting character sketch of the saint.

St. Francis de Sales

For those unfamiliar with the history of St. Francis de Sales, he served in the diocese of Geneva at the beginning of the Counter-Reformation.  In particular, he was a missionary to Chablis and had to deal with the Calvinist heresy there.  Calvinists held the majority in the place, and proprietors would often refuse even to give St. Francis a place to sleep.  With the incredible patience which was his chief virtue, he preached the Faith through public speaking and spreading pamphlets–many of which we have to this day.  Occasionally, while he said Mass, the attendants would get up and leave during the middle of it, and St. Francis would continue the Mass in an empty Church.  His patience and perseverance made him eventually beloved of the people, and Chablis became a mostly Catholic area by the end of his life.

St. Francis describes his method of religious debate as patiently listening to his religious opponents without either showing contempt or superiority and then relating the truth of the Catholic faith without contentiousness.  Here are his own words on the subject, which is one of my favorite passages in the work:

“All the external proofs which can be brought to bear upon our opponents are weak, unless the Holy Spirit is at work in their souls, teaching them to recognize the ways of God. All that has to be done is to propose to them simply the truths of our Faith. To propose these truths is to compel men to accept them, unless, indeed, they resist the Holy Spirit, either through dullness of understanding, or through uncircumcision of the heart. The attaching over much importance to the light of natural reason is a quenching of the Spirit of God. Faith is not an acquired, but an infused virtue; it must be treated with accordingly, and in instructing heretics we must beware of taking to ourselves any part of the glory which belongs to God alone.

 “One of the greatest misfortunes of heretics is that their ministers in their discourses travesty our Faith, representing it as something quite different from what it really is. For example, they pretend that we have no regard for Holy Scripture; that we worship the Pope as God; that we regard the Saints as divinities; that we hold the Blessed Virgin as being more than Jesus Christ; that we pay divine worship to images and pictures; that we believe souls in Purgatory to be suffering the selfsame agony and despair as those in Hell; that we deprive the laity of participation in the Blood of Jesus Christ; that we adore bread in the Eucharist; that we despise the merits of Jesus Christ, attributing our salvation solely to the merit of our good works; that auricular confession is mental torture; and so on, endeavoring by calumnies of this sort to discredit our religion and to render the very thought of it odious to those who are so thoroughly misinformed as to its nature. When, on the contrary, they are made acquainted with our real belief on any of these points, the scales fall from their eyes, and they see that the fascination and cajolery of their preachers has hidden from them the truth as to God’s goodness and the beauty of God’s truth, and has put darkness before them in the place of light.

 “It is true that at first they may shrug their shoulders, and laugh us to scorn; but when they have left us, and, being alone, reflect a little on what we have told them, you will see them flutter back like decoyed birds, saying to us, ‘We should like to hear you speak again about those things which you brought before us the other day.’ Then they fall, some on the right hand, others on the left, and Truth, victorious on all sides, brings them by different paths to know it as it really is.”

Daughters of the Visitation

I don’t know of a more perfect method of preaching the truths of the faith than this, and so I felt compelled to quote it in full.  At any rate, I encourage my dear readers to pick up this work.  St. Francis de Sales is a great personality among the saints and this work does a marvelous job of sketching his personality–and it’s available for free!  Some passages are edifying, some dry, some humorous (like when Camus drilled holes in the walls of St. Francis’ room so that he could observe him therein), but all are brimming with the Spirit of Christ.  I hope that many modern pastors have been influenced by the model offered by St. Francis de Sales.

Plenary Indulgence This Sunday!

This is a last reminder that this Sunday, Divine Mercy Sunday, offers the Faithful a chance to gain a plenary indulgence.  The conditions are described as follows:

The plenary indulgence is granted (under the usual conditions of a sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and a prayer for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff) to the faithful who, on Divine Mercy Sunday, in a spirit that is completely detached from the affection for a sin, even a venial sin, recite the Our Father and the Creed, and also adding a devout prayer (e.g. Merciful Jesus, I trust in you!).

So, go to confession this Saturday or that Sunday if your Church offers it then, receive communion, have a strong resolution to turn from sin, pray the Our Father, the Apostles’ Creed, and “Jesus, I trust in you.”  Should you die immediately after that, you’ll go straight to heaven without a moment of Purgatory.

teniers-la-crucifixion

How many of my dear readers balked at this bold assertion?  A villain becomes a saint in the space of one or two days?  And quite painlessly?  No, they should have to suffer more!  Forgiveness should be more difficult!  But, we are forgetting the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, where those who worked one hour are given the same reward as those who bore the day and the heat.

We forget one more thing: mercy is unearned.  At least, mercy was not earned by us.  It was earned by Jesus Christ for all that would receive His mercy.  Either through the instrument of His Church or without the instrumentality of His Church, Our Lord can apply mercy to whomever He wishes.  Our very willingness to receive mercy, our tenderness of heart, is something Jesus Christ earned for us.  Therefore, we have no right to be like the Prophet Jonah and sulk because Our Lord shows mercy in a manner which doesn’t meet with our human values.

jonah_undertree

But, we are so quick to doubt God’s Mercy and Love for us!  In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Father does not have the wayward son weep for a week outside of his door and fast on bread and water before taking him into His house.  Rather, He does so immediately.  To use an example from the life of St. Gertrude, she once wished to gain a plenary indulgence, but illness or business kept her from being able to obtain it.  The Lord asked her if she wished to have it, to which she responded yes.  After the Lord’s blessing, she doubted the very purity which she felt in her soul.  Knowing her doubts, Our Lord recalled to her that the sun can bleach dyed cloth to a pure white.  Our Lord said to her: “If I have given such power to a creature, how much more can I purify souls?”

And so, let us allow the Lord to shine down as much mercy as He wishes upon us two days from now on Divine Mercy Sunday.

Divine Mercy Image

The Triduum, Easter, and Divine Mercy Sunday

Well, my dear readers, we have come to the most important time of the year: the time when God’s mercy is celebrated far and wide.  Tomorrow, we recall the painful suffering Our Lord endured for our salvation.  Holy Saturday recalls His descent into hell so that the fruits of His Passion might be poured upon all the dead including Adam and Eve.  How can one neglect the eagerness with which Our Lord must have rushed to Adam’s side to proclaim to him that all was forgiven?  The second reading from the Holy Saturday Office of Readings makes for an edifying read.  In my own case, I am not sure whether anything more profound has been said of God’s mercy outside of the Scriptures.  Indeed, the Magnificence and Magnanimity of God toward us who are burdened by our sins, failings, and the thought that heavy punishment awaits us makes the heart rejoice!

Harrowing of Hell

The one Our Lord is lifting up is Adam and Eve is on his left.

One of the terrible things about this life is that we are constantly tempted to doubt God’s goodness.  There is evil in the world; we suffer evil done to ourselves; and we suffer through evil done by ourselves.  We barely make the slightest progress to amend our wicked ways and often find ourselves becoming worse.  We shout with St. Paul: “O wretched man that I am!  Who shall deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)  We see our sins reflected in the wounds of Christ.  These wounds reflect Our Savior’s undying love for us, but how often does our wickedness crush our souls such that we are tempted to say with St. Peter: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8).

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But, God does not want to leave us.  When Peter first said that to Christ, Christ responded: “Fear not: from henceforth thou shalt catch men.”  Then, after Peter could not keep his eyes open to comfort our Lord in His agony in the garden, after Peter denied Him three times, and after Peter avoided Him during His three hours of agony on the cross, Jesus Christ says to St. Peter and the rest of the disciples:

36 …”Peace be to you; it is I, fear not.”

37  But they being troubled and frightened, supposed that they saw a spirit.

38  And He said to them: “Why are you troubled, and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?

39  “See my hands and feet, that it is I myself; handle and see: for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as you see me to have.” (Luke 24)

St. Thomas the Apostle and Our Lord

This is as if to Our Lord is saying: “Be at peace and don’t fear to come to me.  I have really taken your nature upon myself and endured the agony of the cross to bind you to me forever.  Look upon my wounds!  Touch these wounds which I boast of because they redeemed you.  I did not come to condemn you.  I am not angry with you.  Do not be slow to believe that God is Love.  On that painful cross, mercy triumphed over justice so that I can show mercy to whoever comes to me.”

But, God’s mercy did not stop with forgiving us and saving us from eternal death.  He raised humanity above the angels and promised us a glorified body like the one in which He rose on Easter Sunday.  And by the indwelling of His grace, we can come to imitate His divine perfections and His most divine life.  All the above is accomplished through God’s grace.  The sole thing God asks from us is a good will, which He Himself grants and strengthens, to correspond with these graces.

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And yet, we are sometimes more willing to suffer for our sins than receive mercy for them.  When life turns difficult, we get the impression that God is punishing us for our sins–how do we know that we suffered X, Y, and Z because of our sins?  Such thoughts only impress upon us the idea that God is a wrathful judge!  Jesus Christ did not undergo the crucifixion so that He can be wrathful, but so that he can show mercy in super-abundance.

Hence, I should like to remind my Catholic readers that, besides our Easter duty to confess if we have committed a mortal sin in the past year and to receive Holy Communion at least once during Lent, we ought to gain a plenary indulgence on Divine Mercy Sunday (April 27).  This is how Our Lord’s revelation to St. Faustina describes it:

Ask of my faithful servant [Father Sopocko] that, on this day, he will tell the world of My great mercy; that whoever approaches the Fount of Life on this day will be granted complete remission of sins and punishment.

Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to my mercy.

Oh, how much I am hurt by a soul’s distrust!  Such  a soul professes that I am Holy and Just, but does not believe that I am Mercy and does not trust in My Goodness.  Even the devils glorify my Justice but do not believe in My Goodness.  My heart rejoices in this title of Mercy.  (Divine Mercy in My Soul, paragraph 300)

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These are the instructions for the indulgence:

The plenary indulgence is granted (under the usual conditions of a sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and a prayer for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff) to the faithful who, on Divine Mercy Sunday, in a spirit that is completely detached from the affection for a sin, even a venial sin, recite the Our Father and the Creed, and also adding a devout prayer (e.g. Merciful Jesus, I trust in you!).

So, go to confession again on Saturday, April 26th, and follow the rest of the instructions.  What do you have to lose?  Don’t say to yourself: “It sounds like cheating.  I deserve to be punished for my sins.”  Such hardness of heart!  Do you think that God prefers seeing you suffer for your sins over seeing you as clean as new fallen snow?  That He rejoices in your pain?  Of course not!  Rather, He would much rather bring you straight into heaven without judgment!  So, focus on God’s Mercy this Easter and celebrate the Feast of Divine Mercy in all its fullness.

Thoughts on Noragami and Witch Craft Works

The realization that I have not written about either Noragami or Witch Craft Works since writing Renuntiato Brevis struck me.  Yet, these are my two favorite shows from the winter season.  Now, that they have ended and the Spring season is impending, the time to write a few final thoughts on these shows is more than ripe.  The following article is a nicotine powered ramble I wrote while enjoying a blend of Latakia, Virginia, and Cavendish pipe tobacco on a beautiful, sunny day.

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The most surprising thing about Noragami is how many of its themes one can tie into Christianity despite its Shinto background.  As a minor example, we have the fact that Yato only takes 5 yen coins for his services.  Spiritual gifts are priceless.  Since they cannot be equated in any way with material goods, money given to religious institutions are rather tokens of good will than amount tendered for particular services.  All the money in the world would not be the equivalent of a single drop of holy water.

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Then, the progression of sin which we see in Yukine follows a very Catholic understanding.  First, he commits slight faults because of his attachment to earthly things.  The effects of his peccadilloes are seen in the small blight produced on Yato, the god to whom he is attached, but this can fortunately be removed by pouring holy water on them.  In the same way, prayer, holy water, and penance remove venial sins through the grace of God.  Then, Yukine moves on to greater offenses until he does something so terrible that Yato is rendered prostrate.  Who can forget that those who do grave sins “are crucifying once again the Son of God” (Hebrews 6:6)?  His offenses lead to him hardening his heart toward Yato so that he needs to be forced to undergo the absolution ceremony, which requires confession.  In the same way, sin hardens our hearts to God and constant mortal sin produces a hatred of Him.  Similarly, absolution must be accomplished with confession in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I was more than a little surprised by all these parallels.

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Might I add that the final battle is spectacular?  The conflict between Yato and Rabo borrows heavily from Rurouni Kenshin.  After all, Yato is trying to escape his past as a god of calamity by doing good deeds and Rabo’s desire to make Yato a god of calamity again reminds one of Shishio’s wish for Kenshin to revert to his manslayer self.  Well done!

Chronoire Schwarz VI

My favorite character in the series. It helped that Rie Kugimiya voiced her.

Witch Craft Works is as flawed as a Sir Walter Scott novel but about as much fun!  The plot meandered until the end, and the revelation about Takamiya’s condition and the state of the world was scattered as randomly as buckshot throughout the show.  Yet, from Tanpopo Kuraishi to Kasumi to Chronoire Schwarz VI to Kagari, the characters stood as some of the most likable of any show I’ve seen.  Might I add that the end featured a great villain?  Our heroes must have been as tenderhearted as God to let her live!  They could make six or seven more seasons, and I should probably watch all of them.

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To tell you the truth, I even liked Takamiya.  He’s a hapless dope, but his heart is in the right place.  One of my favorite moments from the Winter season occurs when Evermillion asks Takamiya for his eyes as an exchange for dispelling the petrification spell on Kagari.  Takamiya heartily agrees–happy that he can undo her spell so easily!  Of course, Evermillion admits that she is jesting, but this “I love you more than my eyes” scene touched the Italian part of my soul.

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For one more religious allegory, Takamiya and Kagari’s relationship reminded me of a cradle Catholic with the Lord.  Most Catholics are baptized as infants.  Similar to Takamiya’s arranged betrothal, these Christians are not consulted as to whether they want to be joined with Christ’s Body.  Yet, once introduced to Christ at a later age, we become so enamored of His goodness that we accept this relationship, the initiation of which we had no say.  In the same way, Takamiya finds himself ecstatic to be loved by the beautiful, intelligent, and caring Kagari.  But, how lucky we all are to be loved by the infinitely Beautiful and all-Loving Source of Wisdom and Knowledge?

Let’s see whether the new season will provide us with shows this great.

On Churches Becoming Mosques

Well, late last night, I confess to becoming argumentative with a fellow Catholic on Twitter and have learned–as any fool ought to already know–that Twitter happens to be the worst place to argue.  Twitter’s format encourages one to be cutthroat, as messages of 150 characters hardly allows one’s opinion to come across with clarity.  But, I did respond with cynicism to the news that an old church was being converted into a mosque, which naturally includes the loss of its crosses.  The church had been originally closed due to the merger between two parishes due to “parishioners moving to the suburbs.”  And my interlocutor compared this incident to the loss of Hagia Sophia in 1453.

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But, churches in modern America and the Europe of today do not fall to bloody conquest.  The history of the Muslim conquests of the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Europe include some of the blackest pages in history.  Churches in modern first world countries, however, are lost by apathy and poor religious education.  The Church has to a large extent lost the war for the hearts and minds of the people.  Christians neither attend Churches nor contribute to the upkeep of churches.  For this reason and not essentially because Catholics move, churches are being converted into mosques.

The loss of a building matters little compared to the loss of souls evinced by the loss of the building. It is a great shame to hear that a tabernacle which held Our Lord is now empty, but the tabernacles which Jesus Christ wishes to reside in, the tabernacles he reached through the sacraments offered in the church, are human hearts.  The vicinity of a closed church usually has plenty of baptized persons who can fill churches–unless it truly has been taken by force of arms.  On Sunday, the majority of these persons stay home or feel that they need to work on this day.  The importance of attending Mass was never impressed on their minds.  Even if they love Christ, they cannot connect the importance of the sacraments to their devotion.  This points to a failure in religious education–or perhaps they feel unwelcome?  That the Church is for the elderly or the middle class?

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For whatever reason, the Church lacks the vibrancy to keep their members attending Mass.  (Even my particularly vibrant parish has an attendance rate of less than 50 percent.)  People joke that the surest way to endanger a Catholic youth’s faith is to send him to a Catholic school.  The absence of Catholic culture in films and books contributes to the idea that the Christian worldview is of limited worth.  Thank God for J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis!  Sometimes I–and I am not the only one–think that I see more Christian messages in anime than on American television!  The Catholic church in America does have a vibrant center, but they seem incapable when it comes to making the Church’s message palatable to groups beyond the naturally pious.

On the other hand, Muslims, Secularists, and Atheists are so much more motivated to destroy the Faith than its adherents are to build it!  Christianity appears blase compared to their attempts to build a perfect society or a kingdom of God on earth.  But, the riches of Christ are infinitely greater and more beautiful than the beliefs held by our cultural enemies.  With God on our side, the only reason for us to be losing is inaction!  Until more souls become on fire with the beauty of the Gospel, we shall see more churches becoming mosques.  Can we blame anyone but ourselves?